Tuesday, May 22, 2018
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Ohio House panel OKs bill to deter sex trade

Some penalties less severe than Fedor sought

COLUMBUS — The latest attempt to shut down modern-day sexual slavery in Ohio appears to be on the fast track to reach Gov. John Kasich’s desk.

The House Judiciary Committee on Wednesday unanimously approved House Bill 130, designed primarily to go after the customers fueling the sex trade market, particularly those hiring minors.

But before approving the bill, the committee removed a provision that would have required the spouse of someone arrested for soliciting to be notified.

Also, a few of the penalties in the bill would no longer be as severe as those Rep. Teresa Fedor (D., Toledo) originally introduced.

“When surveys are taken of men who purchase sex, they say [spousal notification is] a deterrent, along with taking their cars and higher fines,” Ms. Fedor said. But questions about how and who would carry out spousal notifications led her to agree to pull the language from the bill — at least for now.

The measure still would go after an adult who solicits a minor for sex, regardless of whether he knows the person he hired was under age 18. But the penalty would be a less severe third-degree felony instead of a second-degree felony.

That’s the difference between a 10-year maximum sentence and an 8-year maximum. The move was in reaction to prosecutors’ concerns that the penalty for soliciting sex would be worse than that for actually having sex with the minor.

Among the changes approved Wednesday, prosecutors also no longer would have to prove that minors were “compelled” to prostitute themselves to make a case for trafficking. In a letter, Attorney General Mike DeWine praised this move.

“Removing the need to prove compulsion in cases involving a minor victim recognizes that minor victims are far more impressionable than adults and easier to victimize by sex traffickers seeking to make a profit,” he wrote. “This amendment is consistent with the federal human trafficking law which defines all minors engaged in commercial sexual activity as victims.”

The bill is expected to get a full House vote next week. Ms. Fedor said she’s confident that the bill will clear the Senate and get to the governor’s desk before lawmakers recess for the summer by the end of next month.

The bill is the latest in a series addressing trafficking people for the sex trade and forced labor.

The issue came to the forefront in Ohio after a 2005 federal sting broke up a trafficking ring in Harrisburg, Pa. that was found to involve 177 females.

Seventy-seven of them, including a 10-year-old girl, were from the Toledo area.

The bill follows other measures that toughened penalties for traffickers and then sought to treat minors arrested for prostitution as victims rather than criminals.

Contact Jim Provance at: jprovance@theblade.com or 614-221-0496.

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